When I woke up this morning Jack was sitting on my pillow. Jack is the tiny guy with the green hair and chartreuse pants who lives in the back of my head. He tries his best to keep me going in the right direction, but as you can imagine, it's often a losing cause.
"You have a column due," Jack said bluntly. "And I bet you have no idea what to write about, do you?"
I pulled the sheet over my head and moaned. "I never know what to write about. My best years of writing are behind me."
"You never had any 'best years'," he said cryptically. "But don't worry—I can help."
"Swell. In that case I'm brushing my teeth."
Jack followed me into the bathroom, suddenly excited with new ideas. "Hey, why don't you write about that long-term vegan friend of yours who took advantage of you and now isn't your friend anymore."
I shook my head. "That's a sad story about a troubled person. Nobody wants to read about that."
"But it teaches an important lesson," Jack said.
"What? That I'm an idiot?"
"More than that, it shows how we vegetarians tend to give one another the benefit of the doubt, the way the public trusts and idolizes sports heroes. But just because we're good in one thing doesn't make us perfect. Vegetarians can have big faults just like anyone else—look at you for example—and maybe we need to stop expecting too much from one another. I think that would make a fine column."
"That might make a paragraph," I countered. "What else do you have?"
"Well, speaking of expecting too much, you could write about that 'health food' grocery store that's promoting veal sales."
"I'd get sued."
"You wouldn't name them. You could just call them Wh*le F**ds, and no one would ever guess their true identity. You could talk about how, just because they sell tofu and organic lettuce, people expect them to be perfect in other ways too. People expect them to have a conscience and behave in a moral fashion, but of course they're only a big corporation and their morality is no greater or less than that of their customers. Then you could talk about how we expect too much from all of our public and governmental institutions. We expect them to lead us, rather than vice versa."
I glared at Jack. He was being way too heavy-handed for 7:00 in the morning. "What else?" I asked as I turned on the shower. "Remember, people don't like it when I get serious."
Jack thought for a moment, and then held up his miniature finger. "You could write about what your friend Sharon was telling you last week—that even as people become more health-conscious and the selection of 'healthy' foods expands rapidly, it's getting harder and harder for true vegetarians, and especially vegans, to find something to eat. People are expecting too much from the foods they buy—relying on magic words like 'organic' and 'healthy' to protect them. It's almost like 'organic' has displaced 'vegetarian'. And when people expect too much from food processors the quality of our food choices is dictated by marketing concerns and gets reduced to the lowest common denominator. 'Organic chicken' and 'organic beef' are replacing vegetarian foods in the diet, and dairy products—as long as they're 'lowfat'—are used with abandon in just about everything. You could write about what a cop-out this is, and how people need to take responsibility for their own diets, rather than expecting that anything they buy from Wh*le F**ds will be good for them."
"I don't know…" I climbed into the hot shower. "If I used the term 'cop-out' in a column, people would laugh at me."
"They laugh at you anyway." Jack bounded into the shower beside me, his tiny legs straddling the drain and the green food color dripping from his hair down into his face. "Listen," he said, hands on his hips. "I've given you three good ideas, and you don't want to use any of them? Don't you think you could string them together and come up with something that could meet your readers' usual low expectations of you?"
I thought about the idea for a second and rejected it. "Nah," I told him. "There's not a column in any of that material."
I put my face under the hot water. It felt great. Maybe if I stayed in the shower long enough a really good idea for a column would hit me. Then again, maybe I was expecting too much.